Daniel Isaiah: Montreal mystic man

Montreal mystic man

Daniel Isaiah: "For such a dinky town, the breadth and depth of the music here is pretty staggering"
Photo: Sophie Samson

Montreal singer and songwriter Daniel Isaiah - you can also add filmmaker to his impressive resumé - finds himself in a pretty good spot these days

After having fronted two buzzworthy local bands at differing points over the last half decade or so – remember Percy Farm and Shoot the Moon? – these days he goes it alone, riding the wave of critical success that followed the release of his first record this past June, the bittersweet High Twilight. Finding himself on the home of the local stars, a.k.a. Secret City Records and their stable of Patrick Watson, Plants and Animals, The Barr Brothers,

etc., Isaiah and his musical wares easily slide in alongside these greats.

Laid to tape at the esteemed Treatment Room, his first solo adventure finds him joined by guests such as Warren Spicer (Plants and Animals), Joe Grass, Mike O’Brien, cellist Claude Lamothe and Sea Oleena. Isaiah’s Cohenesque tongue, Dylanesque twang and Beatlesque melodies roll a vibrant pop into spliffs of country and folk.

Hour: You’re in a pretty unique position, actually being from Montreal and having seen the music circles evolve as a direct participant. What are your impressions as to the scene’s growth over the last decade or so?

Daniel Isaiah: When I was a music-obsessed kid growing up here, the scene was pretty bleak. My friends and I were hungry for music, but there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about. We had to wait for touring bands to come through town to get what we were looking for, for the most part. When Montreal bands started getting attention in 2004, some local grumps complained that Montreal was always a great music city and that the media was only just finally catching up to us, but that’s not how it was. The scene was sub-mediocre. There was a lot of ska, rave stuff, girls with green hair and sussies in their mouths, acid jazz and bad funk. I moved to Europe for a year in 2002, and when I came back things had changed. There were suddenly all these really interesting bands, and there was a lot of diversity too. I think it’s as good today as it’s ever been. For such a dinky town, the breadth and depth of the music here is pretty staggering.

Hour: Why the decision to go solo, especially after garnering some acclaim with your two previous bands?

Isaiah: I liked playing in bands, but I’m not really a band guy. I’m irritable. I can only tolerate being in a group setting for about an hour or two and then I get cranky and distant. Bands… They’re neurotic and dysfunctional more often than not. And they have a very limited life span. Who wants to hear a band’s third album? Or even worse, their fifth! I never want to hear any band’s fifth album. But I still want to hear what Tom Waits is up to, for instance, or Baby Dee. Funny thing though: Now that I’m solo, I find myself belonging to a band more than ever before. I’ve been playing with Chris Flower [Edmonton-born guitarist and tree planter] and Tara Martin [drummer and dog groomer] for a while, and it’s been the most relaxing, productive musical collaboration I’ve ever been a part of.

Hour: How much are you still involved in filmmaking, and does it inspire or influence your songwriting and vice versa?

Isaiah: Writing songs and making films don’t really have anything to do with one another, as far as I’m concerned. Rhythm is an important part of moviemaking, though that often gets overlooked. But it’s more subtle than in music. It’s a very tricky thing to learn. Sometimes when I see a bad movie, I think about the director, "He’s got no rhythm." I’m not deep into filmmaking. I wrote and directed a short film that did pretty well on the festival circuit [Three Mothers]. We used that fact to pad my bio, so now I get called a filmmaker. But I haven’t produced much at all.

Hour: The critical acclaim for High Twilight has been pretty amazing. As its creator, what would your review of the record be?

Isaiah: I’d call it a masterful record with flashes of insight into the human condition. I’d praise the awe-inspiring opener Anita on the Banks and the achingly beautiful finale, No Mean Dream, and everything in between. And then I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Daniel Isaiah
w/ Grand Chevy
At Casa del Popolo
January 25

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